Bangkok, Thailand

Our Philippine Airlines flight PR 730 landed 25 minutes ahead of scheduled arrival time at Don Muang International Airport. That was quite a feat for PAL considering it used to be infamously known as "Plane Always Late". We also left Manila on time and I suspect that gentler headwinds on this westward journey pushed us to an earlier arrival in Bangkok - usually a 3 hour flight between the two Asian capitals.

Sutchat, a 23-year old Thai, was there at the arrival hall carrying my name on a placard. He offered right away to carry my backpack as if I was struggling with it. Thanks though. It does feel reassuring to arrive in a strange city with somebody meeting you at the airport and driving you to the hotel.

Despite his lack of English proficiency, Sutchat tried to break the ice by asking me why I was travelling alone. The question of course seem odd in a country which sees a lot of solo backpackers. I guess he's just used to driving around groups of travellers, perhaps on a tourist bus?

I thought about Bangkok's notorious traffic jams before I came. However, the trip from the airport to Banglamphu where I will be staying was rather smooth. In fact, Sutchat didn't use the expressway. Navigating through the local streets though reminded me very much of Manila, albeit "The City of Angels" or Krung Thep (the abbreviated version of Bangkok's full ceremonial name) looks more orderly and less-polluted.


I'm here in Bangkok to join a group in Imaginative Traveller's "Majestic Angkor" trip which I've booked through Adventure Center - an adventure outfitter based in Los Angeles. The trip starts on 8/26 but I decided to come two days ahead for some sightseeing, souvenir-hunting and everything in between.

Our joining hotel, The New World Lodge Hotel in Banglamphu, is well above my expectation given the price I paid for the extra 2 days - only $32! Where else can you stay cheaply and find standard hotel amenities like bathrobes and slippers along with a welcome drink and buffet breakfasts? Not surprisingly, there were other tour groups staying at the hotel before embarking on their own adventures to various points in Southeast Asia.

Armed with a city map, I ventured into nearby Khaosan Road, undeniably the mecca of grungy, sweaty backpackers in Bangkok. The street is congested with tuk-tuks and the sidewalks full of twenty-something Caucasians. There are numerous shops and stalls selling the gamut of fake designer goods, buddhas and Tiger Beer t-shirts. There are pubs for the budding alcoholics and karaoke bars for the wailing Madonnas. There are restaurants whose kitchens announce what's cooking through the aromas of curried this and curried that (curried snake perhaps?). There are hostels of various decay and their touts will want you to stay in one of their rooms - that is, if you can call it a room. There are travel agencies for last-minute trips beyond Bangkok and money changers for that much-needed Baht to pay for everything else I have just mentioned.


I wandered around Khaosan and the alleys around it, gawking at kitschy souvenir shops until I felt the heat and humidity of this afternoon sapping at whatever's left of my energy. Returning to my hotel, I decided to give my weary body a treat before dinner - a traditional Thai massage. An hour of therapeutic bliss cost only 250 Baht. My massage therapist offered me a pair of Thai boxer shorts and a shirt to change into. Somewhere in the background was a lilting Thai music and wafting in the air was the smoke of incense to set the mood...my mood. All that pulling, stretching and kneading felt extremely good. It's as if the lady in charge knew exactly what part of me needs a good rubdown. The first time I had a Thai woman give me massage was in Prague earlier this year - a rather ticklish foot rub after a day of walking. This one in Bangkok is the full body massage that made me feel so relaxed I almost fell asleep.

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